Europe – the land of plenty, with so many countries to visit. It is a place that is rich in romantic languages, classic architecture, food, art and music… With so much to do and so many places to explore, cruising makes an attractive form of travel. You can hop from port-to-port or take a cruisetour, which allows you to spend more time on land. There is also the option of river cruising, which makes the most of Europe's widespread network of navigable rivers.
European cruises may visit the Mediterranean, the Greek Isles, the Black Sea or Northern Europe, a region that includes the British Isles, Scandinavia, Russia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
More than 1000 islands make the Mediterranean Sea a European paradise for the seafarer. It is the setting for conquests and battles, travels and adventure, mystery and lore. Three continents and 21 countries border this enormous body of water. From the calm, idyllic shores of Greece to the height of style in the luxurious yacht haven of Monaco, France, the Mediterranean has offerings to suit every taste. A Mediterranean cruise holiday helps you avoid the hassle of having to arrange lodging and transportation, and being able keep your bags unpacked while you visit different ports and countries in the region.
Itineraries are typically divided into Western Mediterranean and Eastern Mediterranean. Western Mediterranean itineraries generally cover Spain, France, the west coast of Italy (including Sicily) and occasionally Tunisia. Eastern Mediterranean itineraries will take you to the Adriatic Coast, Greek Isles, Turkey, Egypt, the Holy Lands and Cyprus.
The Greek Isles have to be one of the most spectacular regions in the world to cruise. Here fishing boats cast colourful reflections in azure waters, whitewashed villages cascade down lavender-dusted slopes and craggy headlands are punctuated by ancient ruins. There are thousands of islands surrounding mainland Greece, but just 227 are inhabited. Most islands are in the Aegean Sea (south and east of mainland Greece) while a few are in the Ionian Sea (west of the mainland). The islands are divided into distinct clusters, including Ionian Islands, Saronic Gulf Islands, Cycladic Islands, Sporades Islands, North Aegean Islands, Dodecanese Islands and Crete.
Cruising is a great way to avoid sold-out hotel accommodations and getting your head around complicated ferry timetables! Usually embarking from Athens or Istanbul, almost all Greek Islands cruises stop in major ports, such as Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu. Greek cruises typically range from seven to 28 nights and are available year-round with May to October being the high season in cruising.
The Black Sea is one of cruising's best-kept secrets. Away from the crowds, it offers a splattering of history and culture, alongside fabulous beaches and cities that boast baroque buildings. On a Black Sea cruise you could find yourself soaking up the sun on a honey-sanded beach in Bulgaria, soaking in the architectural wonderland that is Odessa (Ukraine) or reliving the history of the Crimean Wars in Sevastopol (Ukraine). Istanbul is a major gateway to this region and most cruises operate between Athens and Istanbul, making a foray north to Black Sea ports. Others cruising options and off-beat itineraries also exist.
Sailing in northern Europe, you can enjoy the grand historic buildings and monuments of the Baltic cities. These primarily include Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn and Russia's masterpiece, St Petersburg. Cruising leisurely between these destinations on a 10-to-14-night cruise makes light work of logistics, and plenty of competition among cruise lines keeps prices at a reasonable level.
Norway's small cities might not compare in size and monuments to their Baltic counterparts but their scenic beauty, foods and otherworldly Arctic appeal more than compensates for this. At the centre stage of Norwegian cruising though are the country's famous fjords. Unlike an Alaskan cruise, you will see glaciers and wildlife. Instead dramatic waterfalls from high cliffs are more likely to captivate you. Cruises in this region also include year-round coastal voyages and itineraries that include Arctic Norway – Tromso, Honnigsvag and the North Cape, Svalbard (Spitsbergen) and the Lofoten Islands. Most mainstream and luxury lines cover this region.
History lovers who are not afraid of a bit of rain will love cruising the British Isles. Dominated by mid to small-sized ships, the cruising experience in the British Isles is varied despite its small size. You can opt for round Britain cruises that circumnavigate Great Britain, sometimes visiting outlying islands; hop on a Scottish cruise to enjoy dramatic landscapes coupled with a fascinating history; do a mini-cruise of the northern areas of the Isles including Scotland; or go for a longer cruise of all of the British Isles. It offers year-round cruising but the weather is quite unpredictable.
One thing is certain, so vast and varied are the cruise experiences in Europe that talking to an expert before you book is recommended.
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